NYA denies Yarmouth once more, advances to regional final
YARMOUTH—They say it's hard to beat a good team three times in the same season.
Especially when that opponent is a fierce rival from down the road.
But as it has for years now, the North Yarmouth Academy field hockey team took on that staunch challenge Saturday afternoon in a Western Class C semifinal round playoff game and proved it to be a meaningless theory, no match for a team united and determined to extend it season to the limit.
Hosting resurgent Yarmouth in the first playoff matchup between the teams since 1995, the Panthers, who eked out a pair of one-goal regular season wins over the Clippers, jumped to a 1-0 lead just 58 seconds in, when sophomore Juju Tardif redirected Kayla Rose's feed into the cage.
Yarmouth then controlled play for much of the first half and almost tied the score when its junior standout, Kallie Hutchinson, had a great look on a penalty corner, but it was denied by NYA junior goalie Elizabeth Coughlin and with just over six minutes to go before halftime, the potent Rose-Tardif combination produced a second goal to put the Panthers firmly in control.
To their credit, the Clippers played hard until the final horn, almost scoring in the waning seconds, but NYA put the finishing touches on its 2-0 victory, improved to 13-2-1, ended Yarmouth's best season this century at 10-5-1 and advanced to meet top-ranked, defending state champion Lisbon in the Western Class C Final, the Panthers' seventh straight regional final appearance, Tuesday at Thornton Academy in Saco at a time to be announced.
"We knew it's hard to beat a team three times, but that's just a statistic and we knew we could do it," said Rose. "We knew playing our game would beat them. We were prepared. I couldn't have been more prepared for a game."
Eighteen long years
The last time NYA and Yarmouth met in the playoffs, Bill Clinton was in his first term in the White House, Bill Parcells was the head coach of the New England Patriots, Kevin Kennedy was leading the Boston Red Sox and unless you had that new-fangled AOL dial-up connection thingy, the Internet was out of reach.
That October, the Clippers eked out a 1-0 overtime win over the Panthers in the Western C quarterfinals and went on to win their first and to date, only championship.
At the time, such encounters were anything but rare.
NYA had beaten Yarmouth the year before (1-0) in the regional final and by a 1-0 margin the year before that in the semifinals. The first meeting came in the 1985 semifinals, a 1-0 Panthers' win after the teams played to a 1-1 tie through six overtimes, forcing the contest to be replayed in its entirety.
But for much of the past 15 years, the schools were in different classes and most seasons didn't even meet during the regular year.
That all changed (for the better) this fall, as Yarmouth was moved into Class C, where NYA has run roughshod the past five years (winning four regional and three state titles in that span).
The rivalry was rekindled in memorable fashion Sept. 13 at NYA, where the Panthers rallied to tie late, then won on senior Olivia Madore's goal in the second overtime, 2-1. The second encounter, Oct. 7, wasn't as dramatic, but again Madore was the difference as her first half goal stood up in a 1-0 triumph.
Those two wins helped NYA earn the No. 2 seed with an 11-2-1 mark (the only losses were to Class A Falmouth and Class B York). Wednesday, the Panthers got an early goal from junior Marina Poole and held off No. 7 Telstar, 1-0, in the quarterfinals.
Yarmouth, meanwhile, shook off its two losses to its crosstown rival and posted a record of 9-4-1, the program's best since 2000, which gave the Clippers the number three seed for the playoffs and a home postseason game for the first time since the turn of the millennium. Wednesday, in a thrilling quarterfinal, Hutchinson's heroics resulted in two second half goals and a 2-1 win over No. 6 Oak Hill.
Saturday, after waiting 18 years to square off with its crosstown rival in a playoff contest, it took the Panthers all of 58 seconds to take control.
The goal resulted from a gorgeous passing sequence in which the retreating Clippers defense couldn't react quickly enough.
Sophomore Linnea Hull played the ball up the field, passed to Poole, who gave the ball to stick-wizard Madore, who sent it to Rose, who fired a shot at the goal. As the ball rattled into the cage, it appeared at first as if Rose scored it, but Tardif was there at the far post and got her stick on it to get credit for the goal which gave NYA a quick 1-0 advantage.
"(That first goal) was very important," Rose said. "We knew they had struggled coming out, so we wanted to show them what NYA field hockey is. We were on our turf for our last game. It was nice passing sequence. It started when Linnea took it up. She passed it to Marina, who passed to Olivia, who passed to me and I passed to Juju, who put it home."
"It was exciting (to score that fast)," Tardif said. "We came out hard and we wanted it. It helped to get that tip in from Kayla. We knew we couldn't let up."
The Panthers didn't let up, but the Clippers elevated their game and had some chances.
In the sixth minute, senior Lily Daggett went after a ball in the box, but Coughlin got to it a split second faster and booted it away.
With 16:50 to play in the first half, Yarmouth earned its first penalty corner and it was a beauty, as Daggett inserted the ball to Hutchinson, who deked a defender, took a step to her left, then made solid contact with a shot that soared toward the goal.
Problem was, Coughlin positioned herself perfectly and caught the shot off her body, making the save.
"It actually came out to be a better shot than I expected it to be," said Hutchinson. "They're good on their defensive corners. I was trying to beat their flier and get the shot off. It wasn't exactly the hit I was looking for. She's just a great goalie. She knows what she's doing and she has confidence and I admire that."
"(That save) was a huge relief," said NYA coach Tracy Quimby. "'Coughy' does a great job. She keeps her intensity even when nothing comes her way for a long time. She was pumped up for this. She knows Kallie from an outside league. She's vocal enough to call the shots and have the defense let it go."
With just over six minutes to go before halftime, the Panthers went back on the attack and earned a corner of their own, their one and only of the half, and it resulted in an insurance tally.
The ball came to Rose, who lifted the ball backhanded toward the cage where Tardif was there again to tip it home and make it 2-0 with 6:04 left in the half.
"Kayla sent a nice aerial over and I just had to touch it in," Tardif said.
"I did a reverse," said Rose. "We've practiced tipping. This is when it counts and (Juju) got it. She knows how to score. She'll do whatever it takes to score. She'll put it in with her head if she has to. She's dedicated and motivated."
"Juju's stickwork is getting better and so are her drives," added Quimby. "She's young. She's still actually a freshman's age. Her skills are phenomenal and we're appreciative of what she does. Kayla moved up to the forward line today. She interacts well with Olivia and Juju in that position. She wanted to step in."
Yarmouth was staggered at faced its biggest deficit of the season.
"We were nervous coming out today, but we still played hard," said Clippers coach Mandy Lewis. "One thing we struggled with all season was coming out from the first whistle and playing hard and NYA's a team you can't do that with. They beat us to the ball. Little things in a game like today's matter."
The Panthers had just two first half shots and both resulted in goals. Yarmouth only managed one shot and it almost went in, but NYA was in command at the break.
Not that the Panthers didn't expect the Clippers to give them a 30-minute battle in the second half.
"We talked about how they'd come out strong and wouldn't let up and what was ahead of us," said Tardif.
Sure enough, less than five minutes into the second half, Quimby called timeout.
"We changed things up a little bit," said Quimby. "We had to. We thought they'd be expecting the same thing, so we were a little more offensive this time. We also thought about what they'd do differently. They did some things in the second half and we had to adjust. The kids knew they'd come out strong. They had a new format and I took a timeout to get it squared away."
With 23:35 to play, a nice feed from Yarmouth senior Katie Overhaug, who had a stellar season, was just out of the reach of Daggett.
Two minutes later, Hutchinson found some rare breathing room and made solid contact, but sent her shot just wide of the far post.
NYA almost made it 3-0 with 19:27 remaining, but off a corner, Madore just missed a good look.
With 15:05 to play, Hutchinson sent a backhanded shot on goal, but Coughlin made the stop and junior defender Alex Barnes swiftly cleared the rebound.
With 10 minutes left, a long shot from Hutchinson hit the post. It wouldn't have counted since the shot came from outside the circle, but the rebound was live, only to be cleared away.
NYA senior defender Abby McKelvy cleared the ball from the circle moments later and the Clippers wouldn't threaten again until the final seconds.
There, Yarmouth had three straight shots, but Coughlin denied every one and the horn finally sounded on the Panthers' 2-0 victory.
"It was so much fun to be out there and play with Yarmouth," said Tardif. "It's good competition. We came out how we normally would. The (beat-a-good-team-three-times) statistic didn't hold us back because we knew we could do it. The defense played well. They had some nice blocks. It was a nice game for them."
The Clippers finished with an 8-3 edge in shots (5-1 on cage).
"Honestly, today was the first time we had trouble coming out from the first minute and they scored in the first minute," Hutchinson lamented. "After that, we picked it up and dominated the rest of the first half. It was frustrating. It was all about the transfer balls. We're very strong on offense and very strong on defense. Our mid line had some trouble finding the balance between the two. That hurt us today. Both goals were literally breakaways. It's hard to pick yourself up after that. We knew we could do it, but we just didn't put it together. It's disappointing, but good for them. They played hard against us. They always do. I've seen some games they played against other teams and I don't think they played as hard. It's all about how you come out every single day. (Fighting to the end) shows we really wanted it. We had a lot of seniors and we were playing for them."
"It was a tough ending to a good season," said Lewis. "We talked about 30 minutes of hockey is a long time and that we could do it. We played hard in the second half."
NYA had three corners to Yarmouth's two. Clippers sophomore goalie Tori Messina made one save, while Coughlin made five stops.'
"(Yarmouth) played an excellent game," said Quimby. "They have four outstanding players. We had to keep an eye on them."
All good things must end
For Yarmouth, Saturday's game ended in tears, but it didn't take long for the Clippers to appreciate just how special the 2013 season was for them, their followers and all who enjoy seeing a once-storied program return to prominence.
"Since the first day of preseason, we sat down and we wrote in journals a lot," Hutchinson said. "Coach asked us our goals for the season and a lot of people said Western Maines and a lot of people said states. This was the first time in a lot of years we could look at each other and have that goal. That goal was there. We wanted it really badly. We've fought to the bitter end every game the past few weeks. During the day at school, everyone was hyped up about us. We don't always get a lot of respect from our peers at school, but we brought back respect for field hockey we haven't had for awhile."
The Clippers have to part with 10 seniors. When Daggett, Overhaug, Sabrina Flanders, Taylor Morrison, Sarah Oberink, Hannah Peters, Emma Peterson, Gemma Shay, Olivia Shay and manager Julianna Salmon were freshmen, Yarmouth won two games, which was actually a two-game improvement over the year before. As sophomores, they helped the Clippers win six games and make the playoffs for the first time in four years. As juniors, they registered the program's first postseason win in eight seasons and they certainly bowed out in glorious fashion.
"I give my heart to all of the seniors," Hutchinson said. "Whether they were on the field or on the bench, they made us better players and better people. It's going to be hard to come out next year without them. I loved playing with them. We've all learned a lot this season from each other."
"This group of seniors stayed with this program when it was a losing program all the way up until now," Lewis said. "Our success is in large part due to those 10 seniors. The support they gave each other. I'm just incredibly proud of what we accomplished."
Graduation will do a number on the program, but Hutchinson is an ideal foundation to build around and with sophomore Bre Morrill, who had several key goals this fall, as well as Messina back, Yarmouth can't be overlooked.
"I like being the underdog," Hutchinson said. "I like having teams not expect us to be competitive. We'll work hard. We had a strong JV team this year. They were unstoppable in most of their games. We like having players who can step up. We'll field a competitive team next year. Yeah, we'll be young, but I think we'll have confidence. It's going to be great. I'm looking forward to it."
"The experience the underclassmen got will certainly help us next year," Lewis added.
Return home just 60 minutes away
If NYA can solve defending champion Lisbon (13-2-1 after surviving Dirigo on penalty corners in its semifinal), it will play for a state title Saturday in its backyard, at Yarmouth High.
The Panthers don't play the Greyhounds in the regular season.
NYA is 2-1 all-time against Lisbon in the playoffs. The Panthers beat the Greyhounds, 6-0, in the 2008 quarterfinals and 1-0, in three rounds of penalty corners, in a thrilling semifinal in 2011. Last fall, Lisbon ended NYA's reign with a 1-0 decision in the regional final.
That loss left a bad taste in the Panthers' mouths which endures and which will serve as extra motivation Tuesday.
"(Winning is) a tradition for us," Rose said. "We want to keep our reputation going. We're looking to get some revenge on Lisbon. We had an off game last year. We had one bad game last year and I thought we were cocky against them. Now, we want it more than ever."
"I think we're all so excited," said Tardif. "We want to go out and there and we want to win. I think this time we're going in strong and we believe."
"Lisbon's a strong team," Quimby added. "They lost one player. They have four great offensive players and they rotate players in who are fast. It's hard defensively, but we have to put the ball in the cage too. We have to find that balance. We'll have to move kids around. The girls knew last year's game was a bad game and you can't have those. I'm hoping they come in and know they have to be good from the get-go. I think they'll be ready."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous NYA-Yarmouth playoff results
1995 Western C quarterfinal
Yarmouth 1 NYA 0 (OT)
1994 Western C Final
NYA 1 Yarmouth 0
1993 Western C semifinals
NYA 1 Yarmouth 0
1985 Western C semifinals
NYA 1 Yarmouth 0
(after 1-1, 6 overtime tie)